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Four months after moving to glittery L.A. "to make it big," Grasshopper Takeover tells of lessons learned on the road to stardom.


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Grasshopper Takeover: An L.A. Story

By Tim McMahan


Last August, Omaha bid farewell to Grasshopper Takeover, when the city's favorite rock 'n' roll band stuffed its van full of belongings and journeyed into the open jaws of Los Angeles to become stars. They followed the path of literally thousands of other bands from around the country, all searching for the musical pot of gold. But while the vast majority find their dreams dashed by their inability to penetrate the scene, Grasshopper Takeover seems to be beating the odds.

Since they left Omaha, the band – lead vocalist and guitarist Curtis Grubb, drummer Bob Boyce and bassist James McMann – have played regularly, at such renowned showcases as The Roxy Theatre, The Whisky, The Troubadour and The Dragonfly. But maybe even more impressive – they've managed to continue moving their careers' forward, lining up a booking agent and making contact with a record producer. It hasn't been easy, Grubb says, but it's been worth it.

"We slept out of our van for the first five days we were out here," he says. "It was the biggest hell in our lives. Absolutely nothing comes easy."

Grubb talked about the band's L.A. experience before he returned to Omaha to be with his family for the holidays and to play a couple shows -- Dec. 23 at the Ranch Bowl and Dec. 25 at the 18th Amendment.

He said the band finally pulled into L.A. on Aug. 13. With nowhere to go, they dropped their gear – minus clothes and futons – at a storage facility, and slept in their van parked in and around Santa Monica while they looked for a place to live. Finally, they found a two-bedroom apartment for $750 a month in Echo Park near Silverlake. Next up: getting their first gig.


"We slept out of our van for the first five days we were out here. It was the biggest hell in our lives. Absolutely nothing comes easy."


 

 

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"The club is legendary because every band that's played Los Angeles has started there, but it's not where you want to finish."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"There's a lot of shitty bands; it's unreal."

 

 

"We immediately hit all the clubs," Grubb said. "We took our boombox and went right into the front door of these places, introduced ourselves, set the box on the table and played our CD. They had to listen. Then we kept calling and calling and calling; it was relentless."

Their first gig was at the notorious Coconut Teaszer; a club that's launched a million bands – some to fame, most to infamy. "The club is legendary because every band that's played Los Angeles has started there," Grubb said, "but it's not where you want to finish. They run through a 100 bands a month -- five to six bands a night, every night of the week -- all playing for free."

Before they left Omaha, Grubb had said the band would be happy even if they played for only two people at their first gig. They got their wish, as only four or five people were in the club to hear their Monday, 8:30 p.m. set. "During the middle of the set, two people sat down at a table right in front of us. One of them happened to be a major music attorney, who e-mailed us the next day to tell us he enjoyed the show. It was cool in that it validated one of the reasons why we came out here – this is where the action is. We're playing in an industry that puts bands on top of the charts."

And every band in America knows it, Grubb said. Competition for exposure is fierce. "There's a lot of shitty bands; it's unreal. Most of the bands in Omaha are better than the bands I've seen out here. There's thousands trying to make it, and even the bad ones get a chance."

That means working harder than the other guy to get butts in seats. Grubb said the band is constantly trying new promotional ideas. The first time they played at the Whisky, they had to buy $300 in tickets just to get on stage, which they in turn, had to resell to recoup their investment. Grubb quickly figured out a way to buy complimentary tickets through Ticketmaster at 20 cents a piece, and then give them away to label and industry people as gifts to get them to their shows. Another scheme they're working on involves organizing Thursday night promotions at area colleges, including UCLA, to get headline exposure.

"It's a lot of work, but do I have a choice?" Grubb asks. "It's sink or swim out here. If you want to rise above the others, you put your best foot forward. I call 150 phone numbers every time we have a show to let people know we're playing."

 

The hard work is paying off, as the crowds at shows continue to grow, Grubb says. "We've gone from playing the Coconut Teaszer Monday night to the Dragonfly on a Friday night. And it's cool how the music is attracting the same vibe of people with the same qualities as our fans in Omaha. It shows us that we don't have to have a couple hundred close friends to build a following."

Other positive steps: meeting producer David Leventhal at one of the band's Roxy gigs and setting up a meeting. Leventhal, Grubb says, has worked with a number of alternative bands, including Pushmonkey. The band also has cut a deal with Florida booking agent Don Harold, who is sending out their CD and "putting out feelers," Grubb said. Now the band is searching for a publicity agent and a radio promoter before they set out on a proposed tour that will run from Phoenix to Seattle. The only thing missing from the mix is a record contract.

"We haven't shopped our CD in any capacity, nor done any label showcases," Grubb said. "First, we have to be ready to play. You have one chance to make a first impression with the labels; if you don't turn them on immediately, you won't see them again."

Meanwhile, the band continues to write new music, and recently acquired a 16-track digital recorder and CD burner. "We have a full CD's worth of new material, some of which we'll play at the Omaha shows. It's poppier than our other stuff, more straightforward."

It hasn't all been up, up and away for the band. Grubb says the low points come when they seem to lack momentum. "We don't get paid for these gigs, so we're putting a lot of energy out just to generate a buzz, which can be hard to recognize."

They continue to live on their savings, and Grubb works for $50 a day for Howard Rosen Promotion, a company that promotes bands for radio airplay. "I didn't take the job for the money, I do it because it puts me on an inside track," Grubb said. "We have just enough to pay our rent. We paid six months rent up front so we wouldn't have to struggle. You can't afford that kind of stress when you're adapting to a new environment."

The band practices in a rehearsal studio in Burbank that's "crawling with shitty bands," Grubb said. After the owner heard them play, he let the band use the practice space "on the cuff," telling them they can pay him back after they get signed.

"It's one of those things where people have always told me I'm a lucky person. But at the same time, you have to create your own luck. You can't take 'no' for an answer. It's tough on your emotions. You have to keep moving forward or you're dead. The scariest part of this whole thing is that we're lifers – we know we're going to be doing this for the rest of our lives, and that succeeding at it is like winning a lottery. It's the last man standing who ultimately gets recognized."

Any regrets? "The only regret I have is that we didn't get out here sooner," Grubb said. "We wanted to be really solid and have a CD in hand before we left, but I wish we would have been out here a couple years earlier. It's a matter of development, getting to know people and getting on the inside track."

All the adversity and hard work has pulled the band closer together, Grubb said. "Living out here has toughened us. We've become a much better live band. And as a group, Bob, James and I get along better now than we ever have. We have to do everything with -- and for -- each other. Now whenever we go out, we're a unit and we play as a unit."


(return to the profiles home)

Originally printed in The Reader December 23, 1998.

Copyright 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

 

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The first time they played at the Whisky, they had to buy $300 in tickets just to get on stage, which they in turn, had to resell to recoup their investment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"The scariest part of this whole thing is that we're lifers – we know we're going to be doing this for the rest of our lives, and that succeeding at it is like winning a lottery. It's the last man standing who ultimately gets recognized."


 

 

 

 

 

 

Check out part 1 of the GHT story on this website.

For more info on Grasshopper Takeover, check out their website.

Listen to the track "Noel" online at BZP Jukebox.